December 3, 2012, by Simon McGrath

Towards a pedagogy of capacity development

Students in a University libraryThis third post reflecting on issues of inequalities of global knowledge production owes its existence to a coincidence. Sitting down earlier this week to start collecting my thoughts for a day to be spent with Michael Crossley from Bristol honing a research bid on our planned partnership with the University of the South Pacific, I found a tweet from @JonHarle, from the Association of Commonwealth Universities, asking me what I thought of the latest blog from DfID’s @kirstyevidence –

So, as I was working with a colleague on refining a bid that was designed in part both to do and research capacity development, I found myself reflecting on my quick twitter response to Kirsty that there might be something important about pedagogically making the tacit explicit in trying to ensure more effective capacity development.

She had suggested that one of the problems with capacity development was that those “doing” the capacity development tended to be relatively weak at recreating their own learning experiences and thus were, in my terms, poor pedagogues. She also rather kindly suggested that teachers might be able to teach development workers something in this area and the ex-school teacher and current education professor in me couldn’t resist that dangling carrot. Hence this post, as Kirsty made me reflect that much of the practice we have been consciously trying to build in our USP collaboration draws on our views about pedagogy and our identities as educators.

Whilst we are at an extremely early point in the collaboration with USP, we have been very concerned to think about how the process of bid writing is a first step in working together. The first step in our bid writing was that one of the USP team developed the first draft and, most importantly, that it was the USP team that proposed the core focus of the project. Then, in a week together in Suva, we discussed the proposal and got to learn about each other, about our institutions and about what our priorities for the project were. Essentially, this mutual learning was about establishing the preconditions for more formal working and learning together but it was also about trying to make explicit much that we knew tacitly.

Towards the end of the week I then constructed a new draft of the proposal and spent a couple of hours with colleagues going through it in a detailed way and trying throughout to make explicit why I had made certain moves, such as when I linked out to global policy debates or how I referenced not simply to show that we were well-read but to implicitly make a claim for the authority of the partner universities in related areas. Throughout, I was also trying to ensure that we debated the text so that my views were not unquestionable as the “international expert”. In my week in Fiji, my reflections were on how what I was doing was both modelling the way I would write a proposal and making that modelling as explicit as far as possible.

It is worth noting that during the week in Fiji I had also been in more explicit pedagogic mode when leading a half-day workshop on academic writing, intended again to make explicit some of my own tacit knowledge as an international journal editor so that this powerful knowledge could be appropriate and exploited by others.

At the end of the week, we agreed that we would bid both for British Academy and internal USP funds for a pilot study and that the English and Pacific Island teams would each write a version for their local funder, sharing their drafts on the way. Hence, the day spent at my dining room table working up the British Academy bid this week. That process too was very much a matter of being explicit about decision-making, even though it was conducted between two professors at Russell Group universities. We were wrestling all day with how to coax a complex project and argument into tiny text boxes and every suggested edit was justified and debated. Then, at the end of the day, our discussion as I drove Michael back to the station was about how we communicated all of this intensely complex work to our colleagues in Fiji and how we made as explicit as possible the huge range of micro decisions and macro considerations with which we had leavened the proposal.

Thus, the following morning my first task was to write and send an email that tried to explain why we had edited the text in the way that we had at multiple levels of analysis and which encouraged our colleagues to read it through our lenses as well as those that they might bring.

Hence, the process of developing this bid thus far has been very heavily influenced by our understandings as educationalists regarding what supports effective learning. This has included the centrality of relationships and respect; an attempt to understand contexts in which learning and action take place; and a drive to be explicit wherever possible about our own tacit knowledge and how it shapes our practices.

I have been stressing pedagogy here but equally, and I genuinely think this isn’t simply pious words, we are committed to mutual learning. As I argued in my previous post, I passionately believe that Southern voices need to be heard in global debates and that their absence from international discourses is more a matter of political economy than competency. Our intention is to reflect critically on the encounter and to mutually research our practice. Indeed, it may be that it is through a reflexive approach that seeks to think systematically about learning and is committed to mutuality that a stronger pedagogy of capacity development might be constructed.

These seem big questions for something as flimsy as a blog and I certainly need to practice, read and reflect far more on these issues before feeling confident to write in a more formal way. Hopefully, our bid writing will bear fruit and we can explore this issue in more detail including through our intended team blog and, eventually, through a “proper” journal article that is co-written with Pacific Island colleagues.

Simon McGrath (Director of Research and Professor of International Education and Development – School of Education)

Posted in Higher EducationTransnational educationUncategorized